An Attractive Brown - Capped with Red

By Dave Hanks

The ARIZONA WOODPECKER, a sub-species of Strickland’s Woodpecker, is quite attractive for a brown and white bird. Most male woodpeckers have a red crown, and so it is with this species. The red adds a very pleasing contrast to the brown. This is the only brown and white woodpecker in North America, therefore it is easily identified.

This bird has four basic calls: a rattle made by the male calling the female while in flight; a sharp, squeaky keech by the female when answering; a peep call to warn any intruder in their territory; and a tuk-tuk-tuk call by the babies when receiving food. The male does a fluttering, gliding display when courting the female, and they both drill a cavity that is about 12 inches deep and is left unlined. The young are altricial and are constantly brooded by either parent.

Their habitat is within southwestern oak or oak/pine forests that are between 4900 to 5500 feet elevation – where they feed on the insects in a tree’s bark by starting at the base of the trunk and then working up to the top. This species is vulnerable, because it is tied to a narrow forest elevation range.

We always look with great anticipation for this species when we are in its habitat. Once on a bird walk, some people had heard that an Arizona Woodpecker was in the area and really, really wanted to see it. We all looked and looked but couldn’t find it. The next day, my wife and I went to the same area. There he was out in the open just pecking away. We watched him for some time. This species is harder to find than other woodpeckers that have louder calls. They are also less abundant. When we do find one, it’s a real “charge”! They will come to suet, and they seem to like peanut butter that’s smeared on a tree’s trunk.

The southwest has many colorful forest bird species, and that is a lure that often draws us south during the winter or early spring months.

(A male foraging on the underside of a limb)